Theo Croker

Trumpet player Theo Croker’s new album, Escape Velocity, arrives unchecked and un-filtered. It doesn’t attempt to fit a single specific musical category, but draws upon the first principle of jazz: to merge and interpret history, styles and ideas and create a unique sound. Escape Velocity (DDB Records/OKeh), due May 6th, and featuring his band DVRK FUNK (pronounced DARK FUNK) is Croker’s second album since returning from China where he lived and worked for nearly a decade.

DVRK FUNK includes Anthony Ware on tenor saxophone and flute, pianist Michael King, bassist Eric Wheeler and drummer Kassa Overall. Saxophone player Irwin Hall also plays on the album. Of the group’s name Croker explains: “Darkness has been labeled as a negative thing but the outer reaches of space are dark. Where life starts is dark. Dark is an endless possibility, infinite and unknown. That’s what we’re about.”

It is clear from the opening notes of songs like “Raise Your Vibrations” that this is Croker’s world. The glistening glow of keyboards and cymbals float around him as he establishes the band’s intentions from mission control. “It’s a summons for the listeners to open up their minds and to let them vibrate for the rest of the album.”

Songs on the album range from spiritual to upbeat, and are sometimes invested with a commitment to with current events. For example: “We Can’t Breathe,” Croker observes, “That’s about Eric Garner. That’s about Trayvon. That’s about reflecting everything that is going on in the world, but ‘It’s Gonna Be Alright’ is the response to that. No matter what we deal with, remember it’s going to be alright.” An anthem of succinct horn lines and joyous vocals, Croker’s message carries notes of both optimism and melancholy.

“A Call to the Ancestors” and “Meditations” are the results of communing with the spirits. “A lot of people assume that meditation is very calm, a quiet very clear thing,” says Croker. “But it can also have a lot of turbulence. When I get to a good point in meditation, I feel like I am traversing through dimensions.” Michael King takes advantage of his opportunity to stride across the piano, digging up a rapid sprint over the pounding percussion.

“Love From The Sun” is an homage to and a collaboration with Dee Dee Bridgewater. The renowned jazz diva, who has served as a mentor to Croker for nearly a decade, revisits a song which she first recorded in 1974. Here Croker overlays a live recording he performed with Bridgewater with a new studio performance from the inimitable vocalist.

The organ-driven pop of “Changes” is loaded with rhythmic energy and cosmic textures, a swelling culmination for a telekinetic band. Marching off in style, DVRK FUNK settles down with “RaHspect (Amen),” a tempered farewell that pairs Croker with King’s responsive piano.

“We’re always pushing our music as far as we can push it,” Croker says of the album. “We’re not changing the game, we are creating a new version of the game that hopefully is all our own.”

For anyone looking to learn the rules, put your headphones on.

About Theo Croker

Theo Croker is a trumpeter, vocalist, composer, and bandleader whose powerful and eclectic take on modern jazz pays respect to the tradition of the music while moving the genre forward.

A native of Leesburg, Florida, Croker is the grandson of the late great jazz trumpeter Doc Cheatham. Croker began playing trumpet at age 11 after hearing Cheatham play in New York City, and by his teens was studying music formally at the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville followed by the Music Conservatory at Oberlin College.

Croker’s musical training has taken him all over the world including Shanghai, China where he took up residency at the House of Blues and refined his style. Shanghai is also where Croker met his mentor, Dee Dee Bridgewater, whom he performs with often.

Escape Velocity is Croker’s second album with OKeh Records. His debut, AfroPhysicist, was released in 2014.

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“Croker didn’t grow up in New Orleans or any other jazz hub. He’s from Jacksonville, Fla., and he was just a child when his grandfather died in 1997. It wasn’t until his grandfather’s memorial services — attended by jazz legends — that he decided to join the legacy.” NPR “All Things Considered” 

“He has a new album, “AfroPhysicist” (DDB/Sony), showing his breadth, with plush funk and rock idioms, some subtle and complex new-jazz ones, a ballad standard (“Moody’s Mood for Love”) and high-wire soloing.”The New York Times 

“His music is full of catchy tunes and pervasive, danceable funk rhythms; he’s the rare American jazzman who draws on the legacy of Fela Kuti as much as that of Miles Davis.”Wall Street Journal 

“Although Croker is the grandson of the beloved arch-traditionalist trumpeter Doc Cheatham, he couldn’t be any less of a style-bound thinker.”The New Yorker 

“Croker’s sound combines the sweet, centered tone you might expect from a Hargrove protégé and the grandson of Doc Cheatham, combined with an unusually strong African pulse in his rhythm section.”  – New York Daily News 

“Theo Croker comes from a diverse background – genetically and musically – and his third, latest album, AfroPhysicist, is the ultimate reflection of it. A blend of jazz, funk, soul, and even rock and hip-hop, AfroPhysicist finds Croker weaving through genres without missing a beat.”Life + Times 

“He seems to have embraced the freedom of Shanghai’s jazz scene. Removed from rigid definitions of “jazz” allowed for an open approach and receptiveness to influences ranging from hip-hop to Afrobeat to R&B.”Revive Music 

“Croker’s fluency as a soloist is drawing comparisons to the great Freddie Hubbard and Roy Eldridge. Premature, of course, but it’s been a long time since jazz produced a trumpeter with Croker’s fearless improvisational skill and mature melodic sense. At 28, Croker’s explosive and fiery style will capture the attention of jazz lovers the world over and rapidly develop plenty of well-deserved name recognition.”San Diego County News 

“Croker is one young cat who could have come straight off another planet because his sounds on this AfroPhysicist album are definitely out-of-this-world!”San Diego County News 

“Theo Croker is casually positioning himself to be the next important musician on the scene… A progressive musical mind, Croker has established himself amongst these individuals and countless others, as one of the most innovative young minds in music today.” 

“With a focused intensity and a large, riff-driven band behind him, Croker strives to re-invent the trumpet, giving it an almost electric guitar appeal.” 

“Afro Physicist clearly establishes Theo Croker as a man in command of his trumpet and jazz idioms. And like a true physicist, he can deftly interweave subatomic particles from various genres into the jazz universe without violating any fundamental principles.” 

“…a bubbling mixture of multiple genres cooked up by a mad scientist with heavy jazz chops and an unrestrained knowledge of modern music.”

“Everybody’s talking about Dee Dee Bridgewater’s protege, from the folks at NPR to the jazz cats around the water cooler. (OK. Does anyone around the water cooler talk about jazz? Probably not.) But we do and after three weeks at #2, Theo Croker leapfrogs Monty Alexander to grab #1 on our playlist. Croker knits together voluminous influences with a clear, sharp and aggressive tone, especially on the hard funk of ‘Realize.'”

“Good music is good music, no matter what you call it, and what you have on AfroPhysicist is good music—a little soul, a bit of funk, and a lot of very fine jazz.” 

“The improvisational revolution has begun, welcome Theo Croker taking cool to a new level… There is a relatively new shooter in modern jazz trumpet and his name is Theo Croker. Remember it!” 

“His style seems to be a conscious blending of musical styles and cultures. He’s unafraid to blur the lines between jazz, Hip Hop, R&B, Funk, Rock & Roll and Latin influenced music.” 

“…one of the more interesting new jazz artists who has “star” written all over him…”

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    Theo Croker – Escape Velocity Press Release

  • Theo Croker 3 – Photo Credit: Geordie Wood

  • Theo Croker 1 – Photo Credit: Geordie Wood

  • Theo Croker 2 – Photo Credit: Craig Carpenter

  • Theo Croker Escape Velocity Cover

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